ASTK15382U COURSE: Authority, Sovereignty, Power

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelor level: 10 ECTS
Master level: 7,5 ECTS




The unifying theme of the course is an investigation of the nature of power.

Power is manifested in multiple forms - legal and illegal,  legitimizable and questionable, institutionalized and spontaneous, visible and invisible. The course will pursue the multiple guises of power through various conceptualizations of power as developed by significant political theorists of the 20th and 21st century. On the basis of thorough analysis of political theoretical texts, broader discussions will be initiated regarding our experiences of power today - from power executed on the level of states to cultural and ideological power hard to fathom; from power that sustains dominating social and political forms to protesting, anarchistic or even revolutionary power.


The course is structured according to the three concepts of the title: authority, sovereignty, power. ‘Authority’ and ‘sovereignty’ may both be seen as designating particular forms of power. The two concepts are certainly intimately connected, but dealing with them separately opens for a discussion of crucial conceptual tensions. The third part of the course, dedicated to ‘power’, investigates perspectives on power that escape the concepts ‘authority’ and ‘sovereignty’: power as a fundamental condition and


Competency description: 

The course will enhance the analytical capabilities of the students along with their general insight into theoretical positions springing from 20th and 21st century continental political philosophy. Independent and critical analysis will be highlighted - both with respect to theoretical concepts and arguments and with respect to contemporary political issues. The course will encourage and strengthen the ability

Learning Outcome

The objective of the course is to enable the students to:


  •  the various definitions/​understandings of ‘authority’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘power’ presented in the texts of the course 
  • conceptual as well as possible empirical implications of these understandings
  • the theories of the course to contemporary political issues 
  • the various understandings of power implied in the texts of the course and discuss strengths and weaknesses of the respective theories

    Critically reflect upon the relevance today of a multifaceted concept of power versus a narrow and concise concept of power - and vice versa

Preliminary reading list (the complete reading list will be available before the beginning of the semester):


Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia. Reflections on a Damaged Life (London and New York: Verso, 2005) (excerpts of the work)

Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011) (excerpts of the work)

Hannah Arendt, ‘What is authority?’, in Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin Books, 2006)

Wendy Brown: Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2010) (excerpts of the work)

Judith Butler, Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2013) (excerpts of the work)

Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless. Experiments in Political Theology (London and New York: Verso, 2012) (excerpts of the work)

Foucault: The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) (excerpts of the work)

David Rolfe Graeber, Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination (London and New York: Minor Compositions, 2011) (excerpts of the work)

Paul Hirst, Space and Power. Politics, War and Architecture (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2005) (excerpts of the work)

Niklas Luhmann: Political Theory in the Welfare State (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1990) (excerpts of the work)

Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Commonwealth (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2009) (excerpts of the work)

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) (excerpts of the work)

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2006) (excerpts of the work)

Max Weber, Economy and Society. An outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley, Los Angeles and New York: University of California Press, 1978) (excerpts of the work)

Slavoj Žižek: Living in the End Times (London and New York: Verso, 2011) (excerpts of the work)


The course presupposes a general interest in political theory broadly conceived. The course is required for students enrolled in the Specialization in Political Theory. All other students are welcome as well.
The course will consist of a combination of lectures, student presentations and discussions - possibly including ‘alternative’ elements, such as excerpts from films, interviews, newspaper articles and other expressions of contemporary phenomena and debates (provided by students as well as by the course instructor).
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Course Preparation
  • 60
  • Exam Preparation
  • 112
  • Preparation
  • 6
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner